The still life.
Many of us probably remember sitting in art class, staring at an assemblage of objects, endlessly drawing.
But what seems like a tedious chore can yield fascinating results. During my Foundations classes, I learned to look forward to still life days.
Still life exercises are revealing. They show exactly how one interprets the visual information provided. In a class of thirty students drawing the same objects, the resulting drawings are surprisingly varied. Based on the placement of students, the still life appears from many angles, exposing sides and perspectives unknown to the entire class.
The still life is a vital tool in drawing classes. One learns not only rendering skills, but figure-ground integration, the balance of representing positive and negative space, and the effects of light and shadow when creating dimensional forms.
Bottom line is, if you want to learn how to draw well, you should spend some time with a still life or two.
On Sunday, June 29, Tulsans will be able to see a collection of fantastic paintings, based on the idea of the still life at the Philbrook Museum of Art's new exhibit, "The Object Project."
"The Object Project" is a national exhibition that features the work of fifteen artists who created contemporary realist paintings, each of which contains five common objects. This is a unique concept for an exhibition, for it essentially asks how fifteen differing contemporary painters would approach the same challenge.
Participating artists created a cooperative in which they proposed a variety of objects for consideration. The final five were selected by ballot. The five objects are a clear glass of water, a moth, a ball of string, a bone and a hand mirror.
These five common objects became the starting point of "The Object Project." From there, artistic freedom was encouraged. The artists had to create two paintings, and all five objects had to be used between the two works. Other than these simple rules, the painters could alter, age, mar, obscure or add to the objects as they saw fit.
"The Object Project" proved to be an exciting opportunity for the fifteen contemporary artists featured. They have known and respected each other's work for years, and this exhibition provided a chance for the participants to finally meet and exchange ideas, encouragement and inspiration.
Featured artists include Steven Assael, Michael Bergt, Debra Bermingham, Deborah Deichler, Rob Evans, Scott Fraser, F. Scott Hess, Robert C. Jackson, Janet Monafo, Pamela Sienna, Daniel Strick, Skip Steinworth, Nancy Switzer, Jeff Uffelman and Will Wilson. These painters are recognized as significant figures in contemporary American realism.
Though one genre of painting is represented, a diverse collection of subject matter and interpretation will attest to the unique identities of each artistic vision.
You're So Vain
"The Object Project" is an innovative take on the still life exercise in that the artists were not confined to painting the five objects in a conservative sense. These paintings travel different paths, and as a result, the exhibition became a test of observation as well as an exploration of realist and hyper-realist art.
In some of the paintings, the five objects are fully revealed and on display. In others, one or more may be hidden or blended into the imagery. For example, F. Scott Hess' "The Measure of Life" is somewhat narrative. Using his daughter as inspiration, he depicted a young girl who has chosen to immerse herself in the shallow flow of a polluted Los Angeles river.
The five objects are represented, yet in unexpected ways. The moth is being dissected and eaten by ants, the bone is buried in the mud of the riverbank and the ball of string has rolled out and wraps around the girl's leg.
Hess intended this painting to be a statement about the joy of life. Even though the young girl lies in polluted waters, an immense expression of joy radiates from her smiling face.
"Connections to the painting of Ophelia by Waterhouse were intended. Perhaps because of this some of the viewers seemed to think she was dead. Her expression says otherwise...Life definitely flows through her," Hess said.
Janet Monafo takes a more traditional approach to her pastel drawings. "Me & the Moth" is a gorgeous self-portrait, whereas "The Moth and the Mirror in the Bowl with the Bone, the Glass and the String" is reminiscent of a still life. Monafo's use of color and rendering of printed fabrics are a visual treat.
"Me & the Moth" was, obviously, painted by Monafo looking into a mirror. Because of this, she imagined her name reflected and signed it backwards.
Pamela Sienna's "Primary Phase" is a stew of those three basic colors on the color wheel. A dark blue, clouded night sky makes up the background, while the foreground is dominated by luminescent bunches of red, orange and yellow drapery that look straight out of a Van Eyck painting.
In this piece, the string is used to spell out the word "hope" in the lower right corner.
Scott Fraser's "Three Way Vanitas" was conceptually inspired by the Renaissance genre of still life painting known as Vanitas. This refers to the subject matter, for in these paintings, the European masters created an extensive symbolism for objects represented in their works.
Vanitas paintings also made reference to the fleeting quality of life, and the uselessness of storing up Earthly wealth. Money usually represented wealth, while skulls and bones represented mortality.
In Fraser's painting, a three-way mirror is set up, and the objects are placed in front of the mirrors. The use of the bone and a Mountain Lion skull represent mortality and a metronome symbolizes the passage of time. A penny reflected in the mirrors refers to vanity and earthly wealth.
About completing the piece, Fraser said, "The most challenging aspect of this painting was the three different planes of perspective presented by the three mirror panels, each with different angles of light, shading and depth."
The Object Project was organized by the Evansville Museum of Arts, History and Science and is accompanied by a full-color catalogue. The exhibit opens June 29 at the Philbrook Museum of Art, 2727 South Rockford Road, and closes September 21.
In conjunction with the opening, eight of the participating artists will present an artists' roundtable discussion the same day at 2pm in the Patti Johnson Wilson Hall. The discussion is free with museum admission.
Philbrook is open 10am-5pm Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, and 10am-8pm on Thursday. For more information, call 749-7491 or visit philbrook.org.
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